Jan Allman is the first woman to run a Ford assembly plant.

Plant manager Jan Allman speaks during a ceremony to launch the 2010 Taurus.

This past week, the first 2010 Taurus rolled off the line at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant. Times may still be gloomy for many in the auto industry, but Ford, at least, has something to brag about, and I’m talking about more than just the sporty new look of the redesigned Taurus.

That’s because the person overseeing production of the new Taurus is Jan Allman, the first woman to run a Ford assembly plant. Allman, who took over the plant manager’s job in May, comes to Chicago from Ford’s Cleveland plant, where she played a significant role in developing the company’s new EcoBoost engine.

The 43-year-old mother of two is the first in her family to graduate from college. She started her career in the auto industry when she attended a co-op program at General Motors Institute, now named Kettering University. She rotated between attending classes and working at Ford’s engine plant in Lima, OH. She earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, and wrote her bachelor’s thesis on correcting distortion in an overhead camshaft.

She started her career at the Lima plant and worked her way up as area manager, engineering manager and programs operations manager before returning to the Lima plant in 2002 as plant manager. She has spent the last two years in Cleveland as site operations manager, responsible for two engine plants and a casting plant.

On behalf of all us at ASSEMBLY: Congratulations, Jan, and good luck!

Hopefully, Allman’s appointment is a sign of things to come. Only 3 percent of the women who responded to our first annual State of the Profession Survey back in 1996 held a corporate management title. Only 2.4 percent of women were in manufacturing management and even less-1.6 percent-were in design management. Fourteen years later, those percentages have changed little.

None of the women who responded to our first survey reported a salary of more than $90,000 in 1995-but 6.3 percent of the men did. Fourteen years later, there’s still a disparity, but women are at least part of the mix. In 2009, 12.5 percent of women reported salaries of more than $90,000 in 2008, compared with 22.6 percent of men.

In 1995, the gender disparity in salaries was not quite as great at the lower ends of the pay scale. In total, 32.7 percent of men made more than $60,000 in 1995, compared with 20 percent of women. Fourteen years later, 74.1 percent of men made more than $60,000, compared with 58.4 percent of women.

To be fair, some of the gender disparity in our survey can be attributed to differences in experience. In 2009, for example, women respondents had an average of 14 years of experience, while men average 19 years of experience. (You can read more about the 2009 State of the Profession Survey here. Or, search our archives for surveys from previous years.)

A few facts about Chicago’s South Side assembly plant, courtesy of Ford:
Employment: 1,280 hourly workers; 95 salaried workers
Products: Ford Taurus, Ford Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS
Year opened: 1924
Site size in acres: 113
Plant size in square feet: 2.7 million
Product history: Ford Model A, Ford Model T, Ford delivery trucks, armored cars and reconnaissance vehicles, Mercury Sedan, Ford Torino, Ford Thunderbird, Ford Granada, Mercury Cougar, Ford LTD, Mercury Marquis, Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable, Ford Five Hundred, Ford Freestyle, Mercury Montego, Ford Taurus X
Manufacturing upgrades: Ford has invested $134 million into the site for upgrades. The investment includes installation of a line for assembling the new EcoBoost engine and new machinery at the Chicago Stamping Plant, which will support sheet metal changes for the vehicles. Key fobs allow operators to confirm proper assembly before the vehicle advances to the next station. Before the vehicle is released to the shipping yard, its onboard diagnostics system and quality tracking system are scanned to make sure no problems have been discovered throughout the assembly process. If there is a problem that has not been fixed, the release gate will not lift and the vehicle will not be allowed to leave the plant.

Historic Milestones
1914: Production begins in March; plant turns out 4,211 Model Ts
1924: Chicago Assembly moves to 11-acre plant at 12600 Torrence Ave.
1942: Plant changes from civilian production to World War II production
1945: First civilian vehicle-the 1946 Mercury Sedan-rolls off the line
1946: Ford and UAW sign contract making Ford employees, at $1.40 an hour, the highest paid auto employees
1962: Plant begins work on 44,000-square-foot expansion
1964: Plant celebrates 50 years of production in Chicago
1977: A 36,000-square-foot addition is added, bringing plant’s total size to more than 2 million square feet
1985: Production starts on Taurus and Sable after $205 million in plant renovations
1995: Plant undergoes $285 million renovation, gets 200,000-square-foot addition
2004: Plant undergoes $400 million modernization that includes addition of a flexible body shop